Showing posts from November, 2018

The Children Return by Martin Walker: A review

Easily the best thing about these Bruno, Chief of Police, books is the descriptions of food and wine, the food usually cooked by Bruno and served along with local wines to his friends in long, leisurely meals. There wasn't much of that in this particular entry and I missed those interludes. This is the seventh book in this series and the plot develops along three parallel paths that finally converge. The first plot line concerns French Muslims. First, the tortured and murdered body of an undercover Muslim cop in found in the woods around Bruno's town of St. Denis. It develops that the cop had been investigating a mosque in Toulouse that may be a center of jihadist activity. Then it turns out that a local young autistic man who had been sent to a special school at the mosque had gone missing and had ended up in Afghanistan where his special skills had been exploited by the Taliban for making bombs. Now, the young man, Sami, has escaped and found his way to some French troo

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver: A review

Is it my flawed memory or have there been an unusual number of new books out this year that have featured a house as a central character? It seems to me that many of the books that I've read recently have had a house as an important element in the plot. And now here comes Barbara Kingsolver's contribution to the genre.  Perhaps the emphasis on houses - shelters - is a reflection of the unsettled times in which we live when it seems only natural to long for sanctuary and asylum from the daily onslaught of ineptitude, belligerence, and outright brainlessness that seem to rule our national life. There is the understandable fear that the shelter which has always protected us is being ripped apart piece by piece. We are literally becoming unsheltered. Then again perhaps I am projecting my own opinions onto the author. Nevertheless, the characters in Kingsolver's book are in danger of becoming unsheltered as the house in which they live is unstable with the roof caving in

Seeking refuge

Nick Anderson speaks for us all.

Poetry Sunday: Bless Their Hearts by Richard Newman

"Bless his heart!" It's a phrase that is well known in the South, something we all grow up with. It is understood that you can say anything negative that you want to about a person, as long as you add "Bless his heart!" The magic phrase absolves you. Imagine my delight then when I ran across this poem last week. I laughed out loud as I read. It just gave me one more thing to be thankful for. Richard Newman - bless his heart! Bless Their Hearts by Richard Newman At Steak ‘n Shake I learned that if you add  “Bless their hearts” after their names, you can say  whatever you want about them and it’s OK.  My son, bless his heart, is an idiot,  she said.  He rents storage space for his kids’  toys—they’re only one and three years old!  I said,  my father, bless his heart, has turned  into a sentimental old fool. He gets  weepy when he hears my daughter’s greeting  on our voice mail.  Before our Steakburgers came  someone else ble

This week in birds - #330

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Pine Siskins have been reported in the Houston area already. Usually, when we get them at all it is not until later in December, but apparently they have arrived early this year. I have not seen any in my yard yet. I photographed this one in a previous year.   *~*~*~* A major scientific report issued by 13 federal agencies on Friday presented the starkest warnings to date of the consequences of climate change for the United States, predicting that if significant steps are not taken to rein in global warming, the damage will knock as much as 10 percent off the size of the American economy by century’s end. The report is notable not only for the precision of its calculations and bluntness of its conclusions, but also because its findings are directly at odds with the current administration's agenda of environmental deregulation. *~*~*~* In this week when turkeys play a major role in many American famili

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez: A review

A writer's lifelong friend and mentor (also a writer) unexpectedly commits suicide. He leaves behind a 180 pound harlequin Great Dane. His third wife, now his widow, informs the writer that her dead friend had expressed the desire that if anything happened to him, she should take the dog. The writer lives in a 500 square foot apartment on the fifth floor of an apartment building in New York. Her lease forbids dogs. Nevertheless, she decides to take the dog. How could she not? Philosophizing and magical thinking ensue. The end. There you have the gist of this rather strange little book which just won this year's National Book Award for Fiction. The heroine of the story is that unnamed writer who rents the tiny apartment and who takes in the giant dog. Not only is the heroine unnamed, none of the characters in the book (with three notable exceptions) are named. They are all referred to by their role titles: Wife No. 1, Wife No. 2, Wife No. 3, student, landlord, professor, e

Happy Thanksgiving!


Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly: A review

If anyone does police procedurals better than Michael Connelly, I don't know who it is. He takes us step by step by step through investigations and describes the actions of the police, warts and all. We see when they step over the line into criminal behavior in order to catch a criminal. In Connelly's world, though, their motives are always righteous. Dark Sacred Night , the title taken from a phrase in the lyrics for "What a Wonderful World," is Connelly's latest effort and it features two of his characters: Renee Ballard and Harry Bosch. Detective Ballard is still working for LAPD on the "late show," the night shift of the department working the streets of Los Angeles. Harry is still working as a reserve officer with the San Fernando Police Department, assigned to working cold cases. It's a cold case that brings the two together. Harry is working on the case of a 15-year-old runaway named Daisy Clayton who was brutally raped and murdered and

How to be an Urban Birder by David Lindo: A review

One of the really neat things about birds is that they are very adaptable creatures and they can be found almost everywhere on Earth. There is virtually no place you can go where there will not be at least a token presence of feathered flying critters. Of course, some places are birdier than others. I am fortunate to live in Southeast Texas which much of the North American population of birds passes through at some time in the year, either headed to more northern climes in the spring or to Mexico and Central and South America in the fall. Many of them do, in fact, linger with us throughout the year. So, I'm never at a loss for birds to watch in my own backyard. One might assume that the urban areas of the world would be unlikely places for people who enjoy watching birds, but one would be wrong. David Lindo in his recent book, How to be an Urban Birder , shows his readers just how wrong that assumption is. Lindo is a U.K. birder and most of the birds that he discusses in hi

Poetry Sunday: Enlightenment by Natasha Trethewey

Natasha Trethewey is a much honored American poet who has twice served as the nation's poet laureate and who received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2007. Trethewey was born in Mississippi and grew up in the South, the daughter of an interracial marriage. Her father was a white Canadian emigrant, a poet and professor. Her mother was a black social worker from Mississippi. Much of her poetry explores the lives and challenges of being a black person in the South. She has a new collection of poems just published called Monument which tells of American history, personal history, and the lives of people who are often overlooked by history and poets. It has received quite a bit of critical acclaim. This is a poem from an earlier collection, published in 2014, but it also addresses American history and her personal history. The last line here about history that links us but "renders us other to each other" I find inestimably sad. Enlightenment by Natash

This week in birds - #329

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : I photographed this Spotted Towhee on the grounds of the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute and Nature Center in West Texas last March. Those ruby red eyes are mesmerizing. *~*~*~* The devastating wildfires raging in California are creating problems not only for those whose homes have been destroyed or who have lost loved ones in the flames. The smoke from the fires is affecting air quality in the region. The air was so thick on Friday that it ranked among the dirtiest in the world . The fires are being fed by the driest vegetation ever measured in Northern California so late in the year. The dry vegetation is the result of an exceptionally hot and dry summer and that, in turn, can be traced back to the changing climate that continues to heat up.  *~*~*~* On Friday, the current president announced his intention to nominate a former coal lobbyist to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Godsend by John Wray: A review

This novel is different from any that I can ever recall having read. It is a coming-of-age story, but it is no ordinary coming-of-age story. John Wray was inspired to write his book by the story of the young American, John Walker Lindh, who became known as the "American Taliban." Lindh was captured as an enemy combatant during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11, but he was a rather pitiable character who had apparently been originally inspired by idealism and a desire to study Arabic, for which purpose he had traveled to Yemen. Somewhere along the way he became radicalized and went to aid the Taliban in Afghanistan and he had the misfortune to still be there when the Saudi-led attack on the United States occurred. Wray's main character is an idealistic 18-year-old from Santa Rosa, California, who makes a plan to travel to Peshawar, Pakistan, to study Islam at a madrasa. So far, not so different from Lindh, but there is one very important difference: She is

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - November 2018

Welcome to my zone 9a garden in Southeast Texas where we had our first light freeze of the season last night. The temperature barely dipped below the freeze mark but it was enough to turn many of my garden plants to brown mush. I had proactively taken my succulents and a few other potted plants to the garage to protect them, but those that were in the ground were on their own. This freeze was actually a few weeks early. Our normal average first freeze date is December 10. Does this portend a colder than usual winter like we had last winter? We know that our weather patterns are changing but it is not yet entirely clear how they are changing or to what extent. Time will tell. The cold night did not affect my roses that were in bloom. 'Lady of Shallott.' 'Peggy Martin' blooms profusely in spring but she also gives us some secondary blooms in the autumn. 'Julia Child.' The freezing temperatures nipped the tips of some of the petals of